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A Mechanech, Community Builder, and Ambassador

Binyamin Rose

If Rav Yitzchok Shlomo Zilberman were alive today, he would certainly shep much nachas from seeing the fulfillment of his life’s work, as his methods of learning spread to talmidei Torah and chadarim around the world. On the occasion of his 10th yahrtzeit, Mishpacha discussed his life and his life’s work with his bechor, Rav Yom Tov, and a host of others engaged in imparting his Torah and mesorah to the next generation.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

It was the day before Purim, ten years ago. Rav Yitzchok Shlomo Zilberman was hospitalized for the illness from which he would not recover.

Among the streams of visitors arriving for a final conversation, one last pearl of wisdom, or words of chizuk, was Yishai Levi, who had become religiously observant thanks to his newfound association with Rav Yitzchok Shlomo.

“He was like a father to me,” said Levi. “I could walk into his house at 2 a.m. without knocking on the door and he would receive me hospitably.”

At that point in time, a governmental authority was on the verge of announcing the winning bids for restoration work on the historical Churvah synagogue. First built in Jerusalem’s Old City by Yehudah HaChassid around 1700, and later rebuilt by the Vilna Gaon’s talmidim, it had been destroyed each time by Arabs. Levi, an architect, had painstakingly devoted the previous three years to researching the Churvah’s rich architectural history in his quest to be the project’s lead architect. It was a brutally competitive process, with lucrative contracts at stake.

“Getting this job became an obsession for me,” said Levi.

Rav Yitzchok Shlomo provided Levi with ongoing encouragement, as the rav saw its rebuilding as fulfillment of the saying attributed to the Vilna Gaon that when the Churvah would be rebuilt a third time, it would be a harbinger of the construction of the third and final Beis HaMikdash.

As he stretched out his hand to take the hand of Rav Yitzchok Shlomo and wish him a refuah shleimah, Levi remembers some of the last words he heard from his rav and mentor: “You should be zocheh to rebuild two churvahs. One is your own, and one is the house of Rav Yehuda HaChassid.”

Rav Yitzchok Shlomo was niftar four days later on 18 Adar. Before Adar concluded, the young woman that Levi had met in Chodesh Shvat agreed to become his wife. He also signed a contract to begin restoration of the Churvah, which finally reopened last Rosh Chodesh Nisan, nine years later, as a public synagogue and beis medrash.

While Rav Yitzchok Shlomo was never zocheh to daven in the newly restored Churvah, his sons and extended family play a dominant role in leading the daily minyanim and shiurim that fill the Churvah with kedushah. Rav Yitzchok Shlomo’s spirit still permeates the kehillah he established in Tzion, at the doorstep of where the Shechinah once dwelled and whose light he yearned to behold with every ounce of his being. Today, almost all of the Old City’s 600 Jewish families are religiously observant and the Zilberman kehillah comprises about 20 percent of that. If it weren’t for their presence, Jerusalem’s quasi-governmental planners might have realized their dream instead, of making the Old City into a secular bastion geared even more to tourists than it already is.

 

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